Challenging Your Autonomy: Others Telling You What Not to Eat
It is all about what has been called the "precautionary principle" which as defined in Wikipedia (where you can read all about it): "The precautionary principle or precautionary approach states if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an act. This principle allows policy makers to make discretionary decisions in situations where there is the possibility of harm from taking a particular course or making a certain decision when extensive scientific knowledge on the matter is lacking. The principle implies that there is a social responsibility to protect the public from exposure to harm, when scientific investigation has found a plausible risk. These protections can be relaxed only if further scientific findings emerge that provide sound evidence that no harm will result.In some legal systems, as in the law of the European Union, the application of the precautionary principle has been made a statutory requirement."
Do you want your government to order you or, if not, pressure you, what to eat and what not to eat and all based on the application of the "precautionary principle"?
I found an excellent discussion of this issue in The New York Review of Books review by Cass R. Sunstein who reviews the book"Against Autonomy: Judging Coercive Paternalism" written by Sarah Conly. The review starts out with the introduction "In the United States, as in many other countries, obesity is a serious problem. New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to do something about it. Influenced by many experts, he believes that soda is a contributing factor to increasing obesity rates and that large portion sizes are making the problem worse. In 2012, he proposed to ban the sale of sweetened drinks in containers larger than sixteen ounces at restaurants, delis, theaters, stadiums, and food courts. The New York City Board of Health approved the ban."
Sunnstein then compares the views of John Steward Mill's well-known essay "On Liberty" ("Mill insisted that as a general rule, government cannot legitimately coerce people if its only goal is to protect people from themselves. Mill contended that the only purpose for which power can be rightfully exercised over any member of a civilized community, against his will, is to prevent harm to others. His own good, either physical or mental, is not a sufficient warrant. He cannot rightfully be compelled to do or forbear because it will be better for him to do so, because it will make him happier, because, in the opinion of others, to do so would be wise, or even right.") with that of Conly.
Her view, as introduced by Sunstein is "Sarah Conly’s illuminating book Against Autonomy provides such a discussion. Her starting point is that in light of the recent findings, we should be able to agree that Mill was quite wrong about the competence of human beings as choosers. 'We are too fat, we are too much in debt, and we save too little for the future.' With that claim in mind, Conly insists that coercion should not be ruled out of bounds. She wants to go far beyond nudges. In her view, the appropriate government response to human errors depends not on high-level abstractions about the value of choice, but on pragmatic judgments about the costs and benefits of paternalistic interventions. Even when there is only harm to self, she thinks that government may and indeed must act paternalistically so long as the benefits justify the costs."
Please go to the New York Review of Books and read the entire review and then return to post here your views of whether John Steward Mill is right or the view held by the author Sarah Conly or some alternate view that you hold. ..Maurice.
GIF Graphic: From Tumblr, John Locke